Steven Gerrard: Ageing Liverpool Icon Faces Fork In The Road
There seems to be a touch of hesitancy of thought when the name Steven Gerrard is mentioned. Having been with Liverpool since the age of nine, the midfielder has been the living embodiment of a club draped in history, with a fan base from which you can not escape, and a passion that arguably cannot be rivalled in the British game. Gerrard has been the roving, blood, sweat and thunder caricature of the Kop he has played in front of for the past 14 years, the beating heart of everything good done at Liverpool over the past decade.
It is almost hard to accept that when Gerrard, as is looming, eventually befalls the time when he is required to stop storming around the pitch in the name of Liverpool, he would not have won the amount of silverware his unbridled desire and talent suggests he should have.
His Champions League success and two FA Cup wins will remain long in the memory, but those three medals, sitting alongside a couple of League Cup and Community Shield gongs, and the Gerrard mantelpiece begins to look a little underwhelming; especially when it is probable he will assume legendary status once his legs finally buckle under his immense workload at the heart of midfield.
Not even a summer of intense flirtation with Chelsea in 2004 could lower his standing in the eyes of Liverpool fans, who idolise the man who, after emerging back in 1998, is still the most recent player out of the academy in Kirkby to become an established member of the first team.
From his pivotal last minute salvo against Olympiakos in that incredible run to Istanbul in 2005, which culminated in a night that showcased Gerrard as a surpassing of the individual, the captain propped up in nearly every position to drive the Reds back from the dead at half-time, and achieve his most abiding moment as a Liverpool player, the lifting of their fifth European Cup, with pride etched in every vein.
To his sensational last minute equaliser against West Ham in Cardiff to take the match to victory in penalties, his hat-trick in last season’s Merseyside derby, the scintillating partnership with Fernando Torres that tore Manchester United and Real Madrid apart, amongst others, as they guided Liverpool closer to the Premier League title than at any point since its inception back in 1992.
Gerrard’s career has been sprinkled with the spectacular. You can probably form a catalogue of moments where the net has bulged from a 25 yard belter, with the number 8 wheeling away to the admiration of the supporters belting out his name in chorus. Yet, that will be scant consolation to Gerrard as the Premier League title, dominated throughout the years by the bitter rivals up the M62, still eludes him.
It is a different Liverpool now from the one Gerrard won the Champions League with, or even finished second in the league with. Transition is now the order of the day, with the youthful outlook of Brendan Rodgers charged with leading the team into a new possession-based era after three years of regression. Gerrard is still captain, and is still wears his heart on his sleeve, though there is a feeling that he may not be part of the revolution for the long-term.
The new animal of Rodgers’s cherishing-possession philosophy has already killed off Andy Carroll, and is threatening to see off Stewart Downing, the duo worth a total of £55 million. There is surely concern that Rodgers, as he continues the Anfield odyssey, may not even be able to find room for his all-conquering captain either.
A viable criticism of Gerrard is his penchant for being too over-enthusiastic, sacrificing disciplined positioning in favour of charging around the field like a bull. Too many times he opts for the Hollywood moment, not the simple, intelligent play preached by his new manager, and it could be the ultimate irony that Gerrard’s irrepressible energy and bullish style from which his game is famed on, could be his Liverpool downfall.
Gerrard is currently 32 and still of great use to Rodgers and Liverpool. He has played in all 15 Premier League games so far this season, and his brilliant crossing and set-piece delivery remains a huge asset to both club and country. One suspects, however, the longer Rodgers gets to transform Liverpool into the slick-passing high-intensity pressing unit he had at Swansea, the lesser the direct Gerrard becomes a necessity.
Rodgers has deployed Gerrard deeper in midfield this season, in an area that he possessed Joe Allen and Leon Brittain for at Swansea. The manager has already acquired Allen, while the nimble, disciplined Brittain, who boasted a passing percentage of 94% last season as he remained integral to Swansea’s passing game, is a totally different force to the England captain.
Gerrard’s ageing limbs may also hinder his adaptation to the high-pressure game that a Rodgers midfield is based on. He only has to look at his stand-in captain at Anfield, Jamie Carragher, for the realisation that past contribution cannot outlast maturing legs.
Gerrard’s position with England remains much less disputed, he’s still very much a vital part, as captain, to Roy Hodgson’s journey to Brazil for the next World Cup in 2014, but that surely will be his last tournament, as yet another member of the failed “Golden Generation” will fall.
It is a shame that one of the most entertaining and enthralling footballers out of that generation could be about to embark on the slide away from the club that he has served so majestically through the past 14 years.
He will continue to serve Liverpool with passion and pride, in the only way he knows how to, yet it is rather unfortunate that Rodgers may know differently, and leave no room for sentiment as he strives to bring the glory days back to Anfield. Days that may have to be achieved without the midfielder who was desperate to see them succeed more than any other.